One of the most exciting things about creating a new garden is change. The sheer amount of change, the transformation from what was to what is and what will be. The progress from grass to border to planting to maturity. The new garden we’re working on now is certainly no exception and it’s around the waning of the season – when the gardening jobs begin to tail off and there’s some breathing room – that my mind begins to take stock and plays “spot the difference” with the same scenes from months ago.
On one hand we’ve been so busy that we’ve had little chance to follow the changes through the season so we’re taken aback with just how much plants have grown and how much they’ve filled out and spread. On the other hand, seeing the garden nearly every day means the change has been imperceptible, almost un-noticed. It’s an odd feeling to be aware of both contrasting stances.
One of the best examples is Magnolia Hill, which was the first part of the first border to be created and planted. At the beginning of the year, it started off like this:
A Plan for Magnolia Hill
Yeah, remember the black polythene, pegs and old cast iron pipes (from another DIY project) to stop it blowing away? The picture was actually taken towards the end of the year before. Let’s zoom out and see the rest of the garden as it started off this season at the end of March:
The Polythene Garden
You can tell I’m not cheating with time because you can see the Camellias in full flower. We started off with a garden that only grew polythene and old drain pipe. Not a single border in the back garden was started, but start we did and it was a couple of months later that Magnolia Hill (the bulbous end of the middle border) was complete and planted:
Newly Planted Magnolia Hill in May 2015
Looking at this, the plants are tiny. This is predominantly a shrub border but on planting, it looked sparse, well-spaced and well, almost bare, particularly around the magnolia itself. Of course, this is only temporary, despite the mediocre summer we had, these plants established, grew, branched, bushed, filled out and have now met their neighbours and begun to mingle.
Five months down the line, shortly into September – not even half a year later – the same border is almost unrecognisable:
Establishing Magnolia Hill in September 2015
I still find it hard to believe those two pictures are only five months apart, there must be something in the soil. Yes there’s some bare soil where we took out some spent annuals, but this is only the first tier of five that has been planted. Yet to add in are climbers, bulbs, ground cover and herbaceous perennials. In the meantime, the shrubby plants – particularly the Sambucus Nigra – have really taken off. The irises have really thickened out, the magnolia is beginning to tower above at the back and the rose behind it (Strawberry Hill) is unstoppable, having almost continuously flowered since summer, along with the Graham Thomas rose.
The “feeling”, “theme” or “atmosphere” (call it what you will) for this border is one of established shrubs and plants, with their varied foliage of different leaf sizes, colours, textures and shapes, all contrasting and mingling with each other. The flowers will also play an important role however, this picture was taken after the main flowering season for this border, which (given the plants) is from late spring through late summer. The style – as always – is that of a busy, crowded stand of plants, which look barely contained by a fragile border edge and are just on the verge of tipping out of control.
Being a shrub border, the planted shrubs will grow to a few meters in height and spread. The magnolia will eventually grow into a mature tree and encompass the full width of the border many years down the line. The shrubs will continue to grow through its lower branches and the understorey from the mature shrubs will form a shady environment for lower growing and ground cover plants. At the moment though, they’ve only just met and are getting know one another.
The Back of Magnolia Hill
The back of Magnolia Hill is a mass of foliage – admittedly not as good as from the front – but the border was designed (and I use that term rather loosely) to be viewed head-on. Towards the back, where “The Crescent” starts, is a Philadelphus that will be a scent-magnet when it flowers. The full border contains no fewer than three Philadelphus shrubs, making for a highly scented as well as a highly visual border.
While there’s not a great deal of winter interest in this border, there are a few evergreen plants and one or two that are even winter flowering, some flower very early in the season while others flower late. I didn’t try for 24/7/365 flowering in this border alone and that’s fine because there’s still the rest of the garden available to fill in the gaps.
It will be interesting to see how this border develops, in particular which plants shade out others that are currently enjoying a sunny position. There is likely to be some chopping and changing, but the crown jewel of Magnolia Hill is the Magnolia x Soulangeana planted at the top, all the other plants around it are the supporting cast. It will take many years before the whole border fully matures but it’s only been five months and it’s already looking great, I can’t wait to see how it develops next year and years down the line.